Hive of Activity: British Gas

Alex Spencer

Tom GuyBy now, plenty of brands have established a strong presence on mobile. Many have even taken their first steps into the next generation of technology, in particular wearable devices and the Internet of Things, but very few can actually say they've actually built a business around these upcoming technology. One notable exception to this is British Gas, which last September launched its connected home brand, Hive.

“Two years ago this office, this brand, didn't exist,” says Tom Guy, product & commercial director of Hive, who will be speaking at Mobile Marketing Life next week. “Now, we have a product with well over 100,000 users.”

Hive's first product, Active Heating, wasn't developed at British Gas' Staines headquarters. Instead, a specialist Connected Homes office was set up in London last January, which has grown from half a dozen staff to a fully-fledged independent office. Guy says the division is treated almost as an entirely separate entity to its parent company: “We run the business as you would with any customer-focused technology start up. As much as possible, you want to get rid of the noise.”

Hive evolved from British Gas' previous foray into smart thermostat technology: Remote Heating Control (RHC), an app launched in July 2012.

“Arguably, RHC was a sort of beta for Hive,” says Guy. “The execution was a bit clunky but customers liked it. When we inherited those apps and websites, we looked at what else needed to be added, and focused on design and usability.

“But most of all, what RHC proved was that there's an obvious customer desire and need for that product.”

Throughout the development process, the Hive team has kept that focus on customer feedback. Individual users are invited into the office to test out new features and products on an almost daily basis. The app makes it possible to post suggestions and vote for others you support – and Guy says that Hive is currently working to develop most of the top 10 ideas submitted through this way.

This research can yield some surprising results. One example is the app's flame icon, which illuminates when the house's heating is activated. “It's a way of giving feedback,” says Guy. “The icon is meant to replace that 'click' you hear when the boiler comes on – from lab research, we found out that's one thing that people really like about their boilers at home.”

Where next?
The Hive thermostat isn't the only product developed by the Connected Homes team. British Gas has also been trialling connected boilers and a smart meter which Guy says is aiming to achieve something similar to “the fantastic work that fitness apps have done over the past three or four years taking quite mundane data, and turning it into something really interesting”.

So far, these products have stuck fairly close to the core British Gas proposition. However, this needn't necessarily be the case going forward, says Guy, which is one of the reasons that Hive operates separately to its parent.

“We wanted a brand that would allow us to release products that aren't necessarily related to heating,” he says. “The question now is what other problems in your house can we help solve for you?

“One odd thing with this product is that you need to test it through the winter period, because during the summer months you're not really going to feel the benefit. If we expand into other products, there's not necessarily that same seasonality issue.”

Tom Guy will be speaking at Mobile Marketing Life on 9:25am, Thursday 27 November. You can register to attend the event here – it's free for brands to attend.